Review and survivors’ helpline seek to close era of shortcomings in Church’s safeguarding

01 August 2019

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THE files of every living cleric and church officer from “every diocese and church institution” are to be reviewed for allegations of abuse or neglect, under new guidance from the House of Bishops.

An independent helpline has also been opened for survivors of church-related abuse in the UK, which will be operated by the NSPCC. The helpline, which is separate from the forthcoming Safe Spaces project with the Roman Catholic Church, was announced on Thursday as part of the Bishops’ practice guidance, which relates to the second Past Cases Review (PCR2).

The PCR2, which began in April, is to be completed by December 2020. An overview of the new process, released with the guidance, states: “Any file that could contain information regarding a concern, allegation or conviction in relation to abusive behaviour by a living member of the clergy or church officer (whether still in that position or not) will have been identified, read and analysed by independent safeguarding professionals.”

It will not include the files of deceased clergy. Any allegation that is brought in the context of PCR2 concerning a deceased cleric or church officer will, however, immediately be investigated.

The first Past Cases Review of 2007-09 looked through more than 40,000 files on diocesan staff, clergy, and lay ministers dating back 30 years for any evidence that clergy or church workers had abused children (News, 24 February 2010).

It was found by Sir Roger Singleton, then part of the Independent Scrutiny Team (IST), to be fundamentally “flawed”, because, among other issues, it was too narrow, not comprehensive, and did not include some cathedrals or employees working with children in some parishes (News, 29 June 2018).

This time, cathedrals, theological-training institutions, religious communities, and other church bodies will be reviewed through the dioceses. Some dioceses, however, may apply for an exemption if recent independent review work has been undertaken, the guidance states. The seven dioceses that were asked by Sir Roger to repeat the original review process have already begun to do so, on the basis of the draft guidance (News, 29 June 2018).

Files from the offices of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will also be reviewed in the “spirit” of the PCR2, it says, as will files held by the National Safeguarding Team of the C of E (NST).

While there is “no expectation” that all parish files will be reviewed, the guidance includes templates of confidential declaration forms that incumbents will be required to fill out with details of “all known instances” related to safeguarding within the parish, both non-recent and present, as part of the review.

The guidance emphasises that “the welfare of children or of adults at risk of abuse must be of paramount importance in the planning and execution of PCR 2.” It urges anyone wishing to give information or make disclosures of church-related abuse “ to make direct contact with their diocesan safeguarding adviser” or, “recognising that this may not feel safe for those with a lived experience of abuse from within the Church”, contact the helpline.

A statement from the NST explains: “Anyone can use the helpline to provide information or to raise concerns regarding abuse within the Church of England context; whether they are reporting issues relating to children, adults or seeking to whistle blow about poor safeguarding practice.

“Survivors were not invited to contribute to the 2007-2009 PCR and the Church has wanted to ensure a different, trauma informed approach is taken by PCR2. Listening to survivor voices has helped to shape how this review will be conducted.”

Introducing the guidance, the Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby (who is now moving to the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, as its new Principal), who chairs the PCR2 management board, writes that “bishops and their staff must have due regard” to it — a term that has previously been criticised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Bishop Sowerby continues: “This review is part of the Church’s overall commitment to improving the way in which we respond to allegations and concerns.”

Diocesan reviews will be carried out in five phases: preparation, including appointing an independent reviewer (IR); drawing up a list of child-protection cases and adults known to the diocesan safeguarding officer; giving the IR access to these lists, all clergy blue files, and HR files for lay people; conducting a meeting between the DSA and IR; and finally, a report from the IR of actions taken, endorsed by the DSA, and submitted to the diocesan bishop, then the PCR2 board.

The Archbishops’ Council is to contribute half the costs of each review up to a maximum contribution of £30,000 in any one diocese, the overview states. There will be specific guidance and claim forms to ensure “parity and transparency across dioceses and church bodies in what costs are attributed to PCR 2 and how expenditure is accounted for.” All claims must be submitted by 31 March 2021.

Once the PCR2 is completed, the Archbishops’ Council hopes that all known safeguarding cases will be “appropriately managed and reported to statutory agencies or the police where appropriate”; the needs of any known victims must be supported “where appropriate”; and all identified risks “assessed and mitigated as far as is reasonably possible”.

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